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14 February 2022

From the NS archive: Fascism in Germany

16 August 1930: German people do not fully comprehend the risk of the rise of the National Socialist Labour Party.

By New Statesman

During the time of the Weimar Republic coalition governments were typical, since no single political party was strong enough to take power by itself. Germany’s fascist movement, led by the National Socialist Labour Party, was the only exception to that rule, wrote a German correspondent for this magazine in 1930. One was inclined to underrate the importance of this ten-year-old party, they wrote – but attention ought to be paid to the group’s increasing popularity. They had polled 800,000 votes in the previous Reichstag elections, and held 100,000 “ostentatious” public demonstrations in 1928, with members wearing soldier-like uniforms and marching through the streets with brass bands – clever means of attracting Germans who still remembered the old Prussian parades. The party proved that slogans were more emotionally affecting than logical arguments, since its ideology was “a more than awkward muddle of vague race theories, anti-Semitism and ‘true Socialism’”. It was scapegoat-ism – “the communal enemy, the hatred of the parliamentary system and of the Jews” – and the country’s economic distress that unified the National Socialist movement. “German people do not fully realise the risk,” this correspondent wrote.

From a German correspondent:

Germany is the country of many political parties. There are about 15 of them represented in the Reichstag. None of these being sufficiently strong in themselves, the system of coalition governments has developed. Therefore nearly all of them incline more or less to compromise between their programmes and the necessity of these continuous coalitions. No party is able to carry out any effective measures, and there is consequently little change in their membership. The Fascist movement is the only exception to the rule: the “National Socialist Labour Party”, as it is called, is a steadily growing organisation. One is inclined, even in Germany, to underrate the importance of this comparatively young party, because all its methods and means of political struggle differ entirely from the traditional customs of the older German parties.

The party is about ten years old. It began in 1920 as a local organisation of 64 members, and already in 1928 had 110,000 members in over 1,000 local groups. There were 800,000 votes for the National Socialists in the last Reichstag elections, and in Prussia alone they polled 500,000 in the Landtag elections of last year. Every municipal election brings them new successes, and it is certainly not exaggerating to assume that their partisans number at least one million. In Thuringia the party helped to form the governing coalition. A strong Fascist, Dr Frick, has become Minister of Internal Affairs, which means that one of the most important ministries in the country is under the control of a bitter opponent of the existing political forces. He is deliberately trying to make Thuringia the stronghold of German Fascism, and the Thuringian police its storm-troops. Dr Frick’s efforts are the more dangerous as Thuringia has often been regarded not only as the geographical but also the intellectual centre of Germany. As a matter of fact, German people do not fully realise the risk of such a situation. Here is a man who was concerned in the Kapp revolution in Munich, now become minister of Thuringia and quite frankly using his power for his own revolutionary aims.

The National Socialist Labour Party obviously proves that political parties are kept together and stirred to action much more by slogans and catchwords emotionally affecting the mass of people than by deliberate and logical arguments. If this were not so, the undeniable progress of the Fascists in Germany could not possibly be explained, as their so-called ideology is a more than awkward muddle of vague race theories, anti-Semitism and “true Socialism”, as opposed to Marxism, and could hardly be convincing enough to make large numbers of people absolutely fanatical and wholly devoted to the party.

[see also: Is fascism the wave of the future?]

That which really links the ranks of German Fascism is an old, deep, inborn emotional instinct: anti-Semitism. The German people, having to suffer a great deal during the war and its aftermath, were only too willing to shuffle off their own responsibility on to any scapegoat. The Jews, living in comparatively good economic conditions, much envied and hated, never acknowledged as genuine Germans but more or less at any time considered as “strangers,” now again became the “true cause of Germany’s misfortune”. They are alleged to have been the secret allies of France and England, to have betrayed the German army and to have brought on the revolution. “Judenrepublik” and “Judenregierung” are the terms which the National Socialists use to speak about the German state of today. One who knows the German national character does not wonder that all these ridiculous accusations are not only believed but are taken for granted. Of course, it is merely a political policy of Hitler and the other leaders of the party to stir the anti-Semitic instincts. I cannot believe that Hitler seriously aims at throwing out the 600,000 Jews of Germany. Evidently he uses this popular slogan in order to get large masses of followers for his other political ideas. The cry against the Jews can be employed to engender the warlike mood that he requires for the establishment of Fascism.

The party has also understood the necessity of assuming a so-called revolutionary attitude. Although this is only a thin veneer, its phraseology could easily be mistaken for that of the Socialist or even of the Communist party. They distinguish between “working” (Christian) and “earning” (Jewish) capitalists, and offer to free the German people from the grip of international Jewish capitalism in order to establish a national Socialism for the sake of the poorer classes. Actually, there is here no idea of a Socialism in the Marxian sense, but the German workman, disappointed by Socialists and Communists, appears to drift more and more towards this form of revolutionary movement.

The continuously changing governments in Germany have not been able to strengthen the confidence of the nation in a democratic parliamentary system. On the contrary, dissatisfaction with the existing constitution is obviously growing, and the National Socialists, with their anti-parliamentary propaganda, attract not a few of the worried and discontented electors on that account.

Turning now to the inner organisation of the party, it must be said that it would be impossible to find any other working movement in Germany so well guided and working so efficiently. The National Socialist Labour Party has been built up like an army, highly trained and disciplined. At all occasions, in demonstrations and meetings, they wear a special very soldier-like uniform and march through the streets with brass bands and colours, trying to imitate the old German army. It must be admitted that these are clever means of enticing the German people, who have not lost their foible for parading troops and military exercises, the old Prussian drill being still rather rooted in the country.

[see also: Mussolini and the rise of fascism]

Realising this, the Fascists do not miss the slightest opportunity for ostentatious display. In 1928 about 100,000 meetings were convoked, and in October 1929 – in one month – 19,000 public demonstrations were organised. During such demonstrations more or less serious fights and scuffles with Communists very often occur, and not a few young people are usually killed. The authorities, however, while proving very strong in suppressing Communism, do not seem to have sufficient courage to meet the Fascist terror with the necessary determination. Five daily papers and about 50 weeklies, supported by a special press bureau, spread the Fascist ideas all over the country. A large number of books, pamphlets and leaflets are constantly being distributed, and are penetrating into the most remote villages of the countryside. A staff of versatile writers – journalists, intellectuals and artists – collaborate in a very efficient manner. Youths’ organisations and lads’ brigades are under their control. Strongholds of German Fascism are to be found in many universities, where National Socialist student groups in nearly all elections get great majorities. One should not underrate the danger of such groups. The undergraduates of today will hold the key positions of society tomorrow.

Apart from the intelligentsia, there are mainly two groups of the population filling the Fascist ranks. In its beginning the party bore a pronouncedly lower-middle-class character. It attracted scores of the lesser civil servants who, having lost their savings through the inflation, remembered the past times of the Wilhelminian rule, which had been prosperous for them. They blamed and hated and tried to make responsible the new state and the democratic constitution for all the troubles they now had to suffer. On the other hand, the Fascist leaders soon realised that they could not possibly carry through any actual change without the help of the worker. (The two labour parties, Socialists and Communists together, polled in the Berlin communal elections more than half the votes.) Therefore Hitler adopted as his new policy the method of behaving as an anti-capitalist and revolutionary, in order to shape an army of followers who eventually, being to a large extent workmen, would not be afraid of a real struggle.

After all, however, one cannot but be amazed how the National Socialists could have been formed into such a seemingly unified movement, whilst the actual economic interests of the different parts of its membership (lower middle-class, workers, peasants, intelligentsia) do not agree at all, but are more often than not opposite. Most probably those contradictions will become a genuine problem for them as soon as they begin any constructive work. Still, today it is the communal enemy, the hatred of the parliamentary system and of the Jews, the economic distress and the German enthusiasm for militarism that welds them together.

Considering the extent and steadiness of the Fascist work in Germany, one cannot help coming to the conclusion that they must dispose of vast sums of money. Evidently, their support flows from two sources. There are the former ruling houses which, still being paid enormous pensions by the German state, have not yet abandoned the hope of a possible return to power, and are therefore interested in all nationalistic organisations. Their time is definitely over; their money, none the less, is particularly helpful to the Fascists. Certain capitalists obviously give the party financial support. At the first glance that seems incredible, as the National Socialists always pretend to be a revolutionary, anti-capitalistic labour party. But such benefactors expect them to break the power of the Communists, and especially of the Socialists, in parliament and the trade unions, and, as a matter of fact, it is not impossible thus to weaken the political influence of the proletariat within Germany.

The attitude of other nationalistic parties and organisations towards the Fascists has not been very clear. Officially they support the parliamentary constitution and are against any revolutionary measures. Perhaps we should rather say they became more careful after the failure of the Kapp revolt in Munich. Yet there can be hardly any doubt that the People’s Party and the German Nationalists are secretly sympathising with them; which means that in case of a Fascist revolt, although they would not openly help, they would not oppose them.

Of course, predictions of the future are always more or less uncertain. Any possible change depends upon the further development of the general economic situation. But one thing is certain: the National Socialist Labour Party is the only organisation that is obviously preparing for, and seems to be obtaining sufficient power to bring about, drastic alterations in the German state.

Read more from the NS archive here, and sign up to the weekly “From the archive” newsletter here. A selection of pieces spanning the New Statesman’s history has recently been published as “Statesmanship” (Weidenfeld & Nicolson).

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